What You Need to Know About Pollution Prevention - Part 1


Instead of simply managing environmental issues and dealing with spills, contamination, hazardous waste, compliance issues and the like after the fact… facility managers and others at the management and executive level are seeking to get to the root of these sorts of problems and eliminating them at the source… before they become expensive problems to solve.

This effort dates back to the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, which charged the USEPA with overseeing a pollution prevention program, which entails “reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of nontoxic or less toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and reusing materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.”

In essence, this law asked manufacturers and others to try to reduce the amount of pollution resulting from their production line and the raw materials used. This change is important because the majority of regulations are built around so-called end-of-pipe treatment.

Essentially, that means if there is a pollutant in a system at your facility it must be treated and reduced before being discharged into the sewer or emitted into the air in order to reduce the amount in the atmosphere or watershed. Yes, that’s a good thing.

But the problem is that treating one pollutant in this way often creates another pollutant. Not good.

That’s the reasoning behind the Pollution Prevention law. The government wanted to see what changes in processes could be made to eliminate the generation of the pollutant in the first place. The goal was to address the issue before it even occurred.

How to Eliminate Pollution

How can you eliminate wastes and pollutants at the source?

Through process modification and the use of less toxic substances is one way. Of course, it’s easier said than done to switch from hazardous to non-hazardous substances in a process.

For example, let’s look at solvent-based paints and coatings versus water-based ones. Solvent-containing paints and coatings are used for a reason; they are long-lasting, and the colors are vibrant.

We had one client that used solvent-based coatings on paper. Think paper stock for book covers, embossed boxes, faux leather, etc.

Our client wanted to do the right thing and follow the spirit of the Pollution Prevention Act. They wanted to be proactive and contribute less pollution to the environment. Plus, there is the added benefit of improving your public image. Consumers are more aware of environmental issues these days, so they tend to buy from companies with an “environmentally friendly” public image (e.g., pollution reduction, use of recycled products, etc.).

So, our client made the decision to change the coatings they used from solvent-based to water-based.

There were some “side effects.”

Several customers of this manufacturer pushed back, stating that the colors weren’t as vibrant and had a dull finish. To make matters worse, the coatings were wearing down more quickly. This made the end consumer of these products unhappy. The manufacturer’s customers were all for reducing pollution, but faced with less attractive products, they were looking for a different solution.

After feedback from their customers, our client went back to the drawing board in research and development. They went back to solvent-based coatings to enhance durability but added water-based additives to make them less toxic.

Admittedly, it took years and was a costly endeavor to create a product that matched the performance of the purely solvent-based coatings. But our client saw the writing on the wall and realized this change was important and needed, so they pushed ahead.

In the end, they attracted more customers and they have already experienced a return on their investment on the research and development for this change. Not only do they have more customers as a result, they’ve also boosted their public image with this new technology and their pollution reduction stance.

It’s a great example of why pollution prevention isn’t always easy but definitely worth it in the long run.

Other Areas of Concern for Pollution Prevention

There are many more ways to reduce pollution, including conservation techniques for packaging and packing material. The idea is to use less packaging when possible and also re-use it, if feasible. Not only is it better for the environment, it reduces costs as well.

Think back many years ago, when the compact disc was first introduced in the music industry. The packaging was huge compared to the actual size of the disc; a lengthy piece of cardboard designed to fit shelves in music stores that used to hold vinyl records. Those days are long gone when you could waste material like that unnecessarily.

Major corporations like Walgreens and CVS have whole departments dedicated to this effort. The trick is to reduce packaging size without “shocking” consumers into believing they are being ripped off. They have to understand that they are getting the same amount of actual product, even if the box is smaller. Public awareness here is key!

Many companies today are also utilizing re-used packaging material rather than throwing it out.

For example, clients of ours that package medical devices and ship them to hospitals, doctor’s offices, and homes include return postage in the shipment, so that it can be sent back by the end user for free in the same packaging in which it was delivered. You might have seen something similar at home with printer companies providing pre-paid mailers so you can send back empty toner cartridges.

How You Can Be Part of the Trend

No matter what industry your company is in, it’s important to take a look at your facility to see what pollution prevention measures you can take. Even minor changes can be very effective.

You could:

  • Change raw materials to something less hazardous.
  • Upgrade equipment to something more efficient. It’s time to switch out that 40-year-old boiler.
  • Redesign products and packaging to use less material.
  • Reuse materials like drums and pallets – or send them to be recycled. (We’ve turned on a number of clients to pallet recyclers.)
  • Provide better training in pollution prevention. Make sure your team understands how handling material more carefully to limit the risk of releases to the environment is important.
  • Enact better housekeeping and preventive maintenance routines. The better you maintain your equipment, the better and more efficiently it will run, and the longer that equipment will last, which saves energy and related costs.

While you’re at it, don’t forget pollution prevention back home. Use reusable water bottles. Fix leaking faucets. Recycle.

And, don’t forget to make sure you thoroughly evaluate pollution prevention options before you make changes to avoid unintended consequences.

There are many benefits:

  • Your facility contributes less pollution to the environment.
  • You’ll attract more customers because of your eco-friendly reputation.
  • You’ll cut costs.

 Plus, you’ll be in the running for the USEPA’s P2 (Pollution Prevention) Awards, which recognize companies for their efforts in this area, and everyone from mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 100 companies are eligible.

 For example, one winning company with less than 100 employees managed to drastically cut their electricity use (and the resulting costs and pollution) by switching to a few industrial-sized fans rather than 20 to 30 regular fans they used to have on the production floor to keep team members cool.

 Your Next Steps

 No matter what your industry, pollution prevention should be a primary goal, focused on your processes, materials, and products. You might do this by reducing the presence of pollutants in your manufacturing process or reducing the amount of packaging in finished products.

 Not only will you help the environment, but you can also create goodwill with clients and consumers, not to mention cut costs.

If you need assistance with your pollution prevention efforts, Envision Environmental, Inc. is ready to help. Call me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or send me an e-mail at markroman@envisionenvironmental.com for more details.

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